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Militants’ latest assault in Iraq described as war crime by Unesco and condemned as part of systematic campaign to erase millennia of culture.

Activists, officials & historians have condemned Islamic State (Isis) for the destruction of the ancient Assyrian archaeological site of Nimrud in Iraq, with Unesco describing the act as a war crime.

“They are not destroying our present life, or only taking the villages, church buildings, & homes, or erasing our future – they need to erase our culture, past & civilisation,” said Habib Afram, the president of the Syriac League of Lebanon, adding that Isis’s actions were reminiscent of the Mongol invasion of Arabia.
Iraq’s tourism & antiquities ministry said on Thursday night that Isis had bulldozed the ancient city of Nimrud, south of Mosul, which was conquered by the militants in a lightning advance last summer.

“Daesh terrorist gangs continue to defy the will of the world & the feelings of humanity,” the ministry said, using the group’s Arabic acronym.

Detail of an Assyrian relief from Nimrud showing horses and horsemen of the royal chariot, 725 B.C.


 “In a new crime in their series of reckless offences they assaulted the ancient city of Nimrud & bulldozed it with heavy machinery, appropriating the archaeological attractions dating back 13 centuries BC,” it said.
The destruction of the site, which became the capital of the neo-Assyrian empire, was confirmed by a local tribal source speaking to Reuters.
“I condemn with the strongest force the destruction of the site at Nimrud,” Irina Bokova, the head of Unesco, said in a statement. Bokova said they had spoken with the heads of the UN security council & international criminal court on the issue.

“We cannot stay silent,” Bokova said. “The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime. I call on all political & religious leaders in the region to stand up & remind everyone that there is absolutely no political or religious justification for the destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage.”

Historian Tom Holland told the Guardian: “It’s a crime against Assyria, against Iraq, & against humanity. Damage the past, & you control the future. The Nazis knew this, & the Khmer Rouge – & the Islamic State clearly understand it .”
The site’s destruction is the latest assault by Isis against the ancient heritage of minorites that have coexisted in the Middle East for millennia. Last week, the group destroyed ancient Assyrian artefacts in Mosul museum in a video that triggered widespread condemnation & horror. The group had earlier also burned plenty of priceless manuscripts at the city’s library.

“Islamic State members came to the Nimrud archaeological city & looted the valuables in it & then they proceeded to level the site to the ground,” a tribal source told Reuters.
“There was statues & walls as well as a castle that Islamic State has destroyed .”
“These are not Assyrian artefacts, these are artefacts for all of humanity,” Sanhareb Barsom, an official with the Syriac Union party across the border in Syria’s Hassakeh province, where the Assyrian community has also come under assault by Isis, told the Guardian.
Isis kidnapped over 200 Assyrians in a sweep through villages south of the Khabur river last month, where members of the community had settled after the infamous Simele massacre in the 1930s by the then-kingdom of Iraq.

“They are targeting a people as well as its history & culture,” Barsom said, calling for the intervention of international organisations to save Iraq’s heritage. “It’s an try to finish the existence of a people in their ancestral land.”

An ancient statue of a winged bull with a human face.

 Isis has repeatedly targeted minorities. Thousands of Chaldeans, Iraq’s main Christian sect, fled their historic homes on the plains of Nineveh in the face of the Isis advance, escaping forced conversions. The group also tried to starve and enslave thousands of members of the ancient Yazidi sect living around Mount Sinjar, triggering air strikes by the US-led international coalition.

They compared the assault to that of the Mongol invasion of Arabia, saying Isis militants were going further in their destruction of ancient heritage.“It’s unprecedented,” said Afram of the Syriac League. “No did that before.”
“This is as in the event that they are specialised in erasing whatever signals that they were present in any part of this region,” they added.

Afram condemned the dearth of action by the international community, saying there has to be a actual military action plan, an inter-faith religious campaign to put an finish to religious strife, security cooperation, and action by the “Arab armies” to finish the crisis. They said the international community was treating the strife in the Arab world as if it were part of a “basketball game.”
“All this world, from the UN to the security council cares about nothing, they don’t care about individuals who are slaughtered on a every day basis,” they said. “I don’t think that there is an international community, or that there's values anymore.”

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